Child Custody Evaluations
What Is a Child Custody Evaluation?
A child custody evaluation is a report written by a neutral
professional about you and your children. The report summarizes each parent's
ideas about what would be best for the children and looks at information
from teachers, doctors and other people who have had contact with your
children. A recommendation is made in the report as to what custody and
visitation plan would be best for your children. This report is given to
the judicial officer and the attorneys for each parent.
The goal of a child custody evaluation is to provide the
Court and the attorneys with objective, psycho-social information and recommendations
about a family in order to assist the Court in issuing orders in highly
contested custody disputes. In formulating a recommendation, the evaluator
analyzes the family dynamics as they affect the children, and searches
for a solution that serves the best interests of the children.
The information contained in an evaluation may be used
by the Court in issuing custody orders or by the parties in reaching an
agreement. Since the evaluation is written by someone who is neutral and
is knowledgeable about how divorce affects children, a custody evaluation
a very important alternative dispute resolution tool.
When Might You Need a Child
If a custody issue is not settled in mediation and the parents
have serious concerns about each other's ability to parent the children
involved, a child custody evaluation may be useful. In particular, an evaluation
may be important in cases where any of the following issues are present:
concerns have been raised that either (or both) parent behaves
in such a manner so as to physically or emotionally harm the child(ren),
the social environment of either (or both) parent appears
to be detrimental to the welfare of the child(ren),
the minor has an adjustment or behavior problem which requires
one parent wishes to relocate with the child and the move
will impair continuing contact between the child and the other parent,
the noncustodial parent appears to have an ability to provide
for the child in a manner which is superior to that of the custodial parent.
Is There a Cost?
Unless the Court orders the cost of the evaluation waived
or deferred, a deposit (of approximately $1000) is required before the
evaluation commences. The actual total cost of the evaluation is computed
based on an hourly charge for services and is detailed in the bill which
is sent when the evaluation is completed The report is not released to
the attorneys or the Court until the bill is paid in full, unless the Court
How Long Does It Take?
A return Court date of three months in the future should
be set to receive the completed evaluation into evidence. Delays in paying
the deposit, difficulties in obtaining information, and canceled/missed
appointments will cause delays in completing the report.
How Can You Get an Evaluation?
Evaluations performed by the Child Custody Evaluations Office
are performed pursuant to Family Code § 3111, and can only be performed
when so ordered. Generally, the order takes the form of a Stipulation and
Order for Appointment and Payment of Court Evaluator. (This form is available
through the Child Custody Evaluations Office or the Family Law Courtrooms.)
All orders are sent by the courtroom clerk to the central office (111 N.
Hill St., Rm. 228) for processing.
At the time the order is issued, the clerk should provide
you with two forms: an Information Form and a Parent Questionnaire. The
Information Form must be filled out and left with the clerk before the
parents leave the courtroom. The Parent Questionnaire must be carefully
and completely filled out and mailed to the Child Custody Evaluations Office
within 10 days. Upon receipt of an order and any required payment, an evaluator
is assigned to the case. The evaluator may be located in the Central Courthouse
or in one of the district courts. The attorney/pro per is notified of this
assignment and, from that point, all information about the case should
be sent directly to the assigned evaluator. Assignments are based primarily
on (1) availability of the evaluator to complete the report by the scheduled
Court date and (2) location of the parties. Unilateral requests for a specific
evaluator will not be honored. However, each party is allowed to exercise
one peremptory challenge to an evaluator at the time when the evaluation
Who Does the Evaluation?
Every evaluator appointed through the Child Custody Evaluations
Office is an employee of the Superior Court. Evaluators hired by the Court
have at a minimum a Master's Degree in Behavioral Science and five years
of post masters experience working with families and children. In reality,
most of the evaluators exceed the minimum requirements. All employees receive
ongoing professional training and participate in various local, state and
national committees and organizations relevant to the field of child custody
evaluations. The office employs both full and part time evaluators.
What Happens During
Although sometimes altered to fit the needs of a particular
situation, evaluations generally follow a definite pattern in terms of
the steps taken to obtain information:
Interviews with both parents, generally conjoint except in
domestic violence cases or where it is otherwise inappropriate.
Observation of the children with each of the parents in each
parent's home and interviews with all other members of the household.
Individual age-appropriate interviews with each child at
issue, which usually take place in the home of each parent.
Any and all pertinent collateral information.
Every effort is made to apply comparable procedures with
both parties. If a parent resides in a neighboring county, the evaluator
may ask that parent to come to Los Angeles County for the office interview
and may either make the home call or ask an appropriate agency in the other
county to go to the home. If the party resides at a greater distance and
is unable to be interviewed in Los Angeles, the evaluator will rely on
a local agency where available. (In those rare cases in which the evaluator
is ordered to go to another jurisdiction for purposes of evaluating a parent
in his/her own environment, orders must include an order for prepayment
of travel expenses.)
Interviews (usually telephonic) with other significant people.
The evaluator will exercise discretion in selecting those persons most
likely to contribute information central to determining the best interests
of the child(ren).
What Does a Child Custody
Evaluation Report Look Like?
The report describes the procedures used and all sources
of information central to reaching the decision. The report contains a
summary of the information collected, the evaluator's assessment of the
family dynamics and the needs of the children, and a recommended custody
and visitation plan.
The original report is sent to the Court and each attorney/pro
per receives a copy. The reports are identical in all respects except where
criminal records have been obtained on the persons related to the case.
Criminal reports are attached to the Court's copy only. The attorneys'
copies are marked with a request not to generate further copies. We ask
that information contained in the report be discussed with the client in
a way that the children's well-being is protected at all times, and the
children do not suffer any repercussions as a result of their statements.
Can the Evaluator be Subpoenaed?
Any subpoena requiring the appearance of an evaluator at
a hearing or deposition must be hand delivered to the central Child Custody
Evaluations Office at least 10 days prior to the appearance date. A $478
deposit is required per subpoena to cover one day of expert witness fees.
Depositions require a deposit of $1433 to cover three days of expert witness
fees. Deposits must be received 10 days in advance of the appearance date.
Additional time will be billed or refunds issued, as appropriate.
Can We Still Write Our Own
Agreement after the Evaluation Is Done?
Yes, you are always encouraged to write your own agreement.
After the evaluation is completed, you can make another appointment with
the Conciliation Court or with your attorneys. Additionally, if, at the
end of the evaluation process, the evaluator feels the family could benefit
from another opportunity to settle the dispute, the evaluator invites the
parents to a Post Evaluation Settlement Conference and their attorneys
are notified of the scheduled meeting. During this meeting, the evaluator
shares with the parents the recommendations that would be made to the Court,
if a report was written, and which areas in the recommendation are subject
to negotiation. If the parents reach an agreement and after 10 days neither
party objects to the agreement, the agreement is forwarded to the Court
for judicial signature and filing with the Court. In these cases, no report
is filed with the Court.
How Can Attorneys Assist
in the Process? (Pro Pers Should Read This)
Providing information to the evaluator: The evaluator
must have accurate and complete information in order to contact your client
and any other person(s) from whom the parent wants the evaluator to receive
information. Make sure your client fills out all necessary paperwork promptly
and thoroughly and provides releases to obtain requested
information. Any direct communication from either attorney with the assigned
evaluator about the specifics of the case should be done in writing with
a copy to opposing counsel.
Keeping Appointments: Make sure your client knows
when his/her appointments are scheduled and makes every effort to keep
those appointments. If an emergency arises necessitating rescheduling an
appointment, be sure the evaluator is notified as soon as possible.
Efforts are made to set the home call appointment within
the existing court ordered visitation schedule. However, in many situations,
the home call appointment will differ from visitation times set out by
the Court and the attorneys' cooperation may be needed to ensure the child(ren)
are present in each parent's home for the evaluator's visit.
Explaining the cost: Be sure your client understands
the payment obligation set forth in the Stipulation and Order for Appointment
and Payment of Court Evaluator and fulfills this obligation promptly. Any
factors regarding inability to pay should be raised at the time the evaluation
is ordered, so orders accommodating your client's financial situation can
Clarifying allegations: Encourage your client to provide
the evaluator with his/her concerns regarding the parenting of the children,
and sources of collateral information, as early in the process as possible
(desirably on the Parent Questionnaire). The evaluator will investigate
the allegations raised by both parents, including fulfilling legal mandates
regarding reporting child abuse. However, the investigation of a specific
allegation does not necessarily mean the evaluator is convinced of the
truth or merit of the allegation.
Notifying the evaluator of any change in status: The
evaluator must be informed at the earliest possible date of all changes
relating to the case including: substitution of attorney, change in Court
date, settlement of the dispute, and address changes.
Encouraging full participation in home calls: Encourage
your client to have all members of his/her household present for the home
call, including step children and other children not at issue. The purpose
of the home call is to observe the children with the people that live in
that home and to interview the significant people in the child's life.
Absent parties lead to a less complete picture of the family.
Are There Professional
Standards Evaluators Must Follow?
Yes, the state has developed standards which evaluators must
follow. To obtain a copy of the standards for child custody evaluators
and mediators, contact the Administrative
Office of the Courts, Family Court Services, 455 Golden Gate Avenue,
San Francisco, CA. (415) 865-4333 or obtain them directly from the Internet
at this link: Uniform
standards of practice for court-ordered child custody evaluations.
The rules which the Los Angeles County Superior Court has adopted to implement
these standards are found at this link: ADHERENCE
TO STANDARDS AND REQUESTS FOR CHANGE OF FAMILY COURT SERVICES MEDIATOR/EVALUATOR
The information on this web page refers only to the "full
evaluation" conducted by the Custody Evaluations Division of the Superior
Court's Family Court Services Department pursuant to Family
Code sections 3110-3117. The Custody Evaluations Division also conducts
"Fast Track Evaluations" which are quicker and less costly but are also
less thorough and do not involve home visits. A web page is under construction
to describe this type of evaluation.
The court is also empowered to appoint an independent
mental health professional unconnected with the court itself (in most such
instances, a clinical psychologist in private practice) as its own expert
witness under Evidence
Code section 730 to conduct an evaluation of the parties and the child(ren)
and to make recommendations for an appropriate parenting plan. This web
page does not attempt to describe such an evaluation, although an expert
appointed under Evidence Code section 730 is also subject to the Uniform
standards of practice for court-ordered child custody evaluations including
the requirement that s/he receive and maintain updated training pursuant
to the statewide Domestic
violence training standards for court-appointed child custody investigators
and evaluators (Cal.Rules of Court, rule 1257.7).